Nature = Earth – Humans? Or Nature = Earth + Humans

How do you distinguish humans from the rest of nature? Or do you not? This has been a concept that I’ve struggled with for a while now. Especially when confronted by non-environmentalists who counter with the argument of “Are we not a product of nature? How are our manipulations of nature any different from those of a beaver?” or worse, when they defend our destructive actions as simply a “survival of the fittest” when thousands of other species die as a consequence. Below is the best response I could come up with but I am open to suggestions, comments, and critique!

Humans are natural, yet also something dynamically different from nature because of the uniquely different human culture of Homo sapiens. It is a complicated issue and the best way to explain it, is through the use of colors. Pink is a type of red color, but we do not simplify it as red. Although pink cannot exist without red, because that is where it gets its hue, it is dynamically different from red because of its white component. The addition of white distinguishes pink from red so drastically that when coming across a pink and red sweater we do not describe it as red. Rather, the item is considered to be composed of two different colors. This example is comparable to the relationship between humans and nature. Utilizing this metaphor, nature represents the red, human culture is the white, and thus humans are pink. Although humanity is natural, it is different from nature because it has the additional component of culture which is not inherent in nature. So, just as with the red and pink sweater, when describing nature, humans will not be included in this description since they are not reducible to such designation.

For the full-length argument visit “Earth Actualization.”

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7 thoughts on “Nature = Earth – Humans? Or Nature = Earth + Humans

  1. maggjones

    Rebecca,

    Thank you for your post, I love the color metaphor. Its helpful in conceptualizing our role within the ecocommunity. This journal would probably love some of your pieces: http://www.ecologicalcitizen.net/#signup .

    I am wondering how we can conceptualize human nature within the ecological community in a concise, technical way. This use of the color wheel helps to get closer to that! Thank you again.

    Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rebecca Croy

      Hi Maggie!

      Wow, thank you so much! I’m having a hard enough time keeping up on this blog, but maybe some day I’ll have more time on my hands and can check out the ecological citizen! Thanks for letting me know about it!

      I’m so glad you like the color analogy! It was the piece of this post I struggled with the most. I couldn’t figure out how to explain (both to myself and to a readership) how humans are both a part of nature and also not a part of nature.

      Thanks again for your kind words! 🙂

      Rebecca

      Like

  2. Rachel Wright

    Rebecca,

    Thank you for sharing. I also find your visual metaphor very helpful. I have also been looking for a way to define the place of humanity in nature.

    Surely, we are more connected to the environment (the ‘red’) around us than we realize. The environment dramatically influences human society just as civilization impacts nature. For illustration, consider the establishment of the United States Southern boarder. I am currently enrolled in an undergraduate Parasitology course that examined the impact of yellow fever during this time. European settlers did not have an immune system adapted to disease, preventing movement into more tropical regions. In this manner, even social boundaries may, in part, be a product of nature.

    On the other hand, the unique tools and abilities we have as a species (the ‘white’) allow us to impact nature in a manner quite distinct from other nonhuman organisms. Although the Earth’s climate has changed drastically throughout time, recent climate changes are especially concerning for the future of the planet and are attributed to human activity. Although we may be a product of nature ourselves, we have detrimentally influenced the overall health of the planet in a way unique from other species. Fortunately, we also have an awareness that provides us the opportunity to effect further change that may stabilize the climate in a way that promotes the flourishing of human and nonhuman life alike. In this manner, humanity holds a special position over nature.

    Both components must be acknowledged in order to foster a balanced and ethical relationship between humankind and our environment. Exactly what that relationship ought to look like, however, proves difficult to define. We continue to look for a shade of pink that will best support the Earth and its inhabitants.

    Rachel

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rachel Wright

    Rebecca,

    Thank you for sharing. I also found your visual metaphor quite helpful. I have been struggling myself to articulate the place of humanity in nature.

    Surely, we are more connected to the surrounding environment (the ‘red’) than we realize. Nature dramatically influences human society just as human actions influence the environment. For instance, consider the establishment of the United States’s Southern border. I am currently enrolled in an undergraduate Parasitology course that has evaluated the impact of yellow fever during this time. The European settlers did not possess an immune system adapted to yellow fever. Therefore, they fell susceptible to disease progression in more tropical regions—impeding colonial advances. In this manner, nature contributed at least in part to the establishment of societal boundaries.

    On the other hand, humanity’s tools and abilities (the ‘white’) stand out distinctly from those of other organisms. Although the Earth’s climate has seen dramatic change throughout time, recent climate changes cause great concern for the future of the planet and are attributed to human activity. As a species, we have detrimentally influenced the natural world in a manner distinct from other organisms. Fortunately, we also possess the opportunity to effect changes that promote the flourishing of human and nonhuman life. We hold a special position over nature that endows us with a unique responsibility for its wellbeing.

    Both components must be recognized in order to foster a balanced and ethical relationship between humanity and the environment that surrounds us. Exactly what this relationship ought to look like proves difficult to define as we continue to search for an ideal shade of pink.

    Rachel

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rebecca Croy

      Hi Rachel,

      Wow, thank you so much for your comments!

      I had no idea yellow fever played such an integral role in the U.S.’s history. Since reading your comment, I have shared this interesting fact with too many coworkers and friends haha. It’s fascinating to me! I would love to read a book or watch a documentary about all of the ways in which human history has been drastically altered by environmental factors.

      Also, I totally agree about humans being affected by nature more than we realize. I’m a firm believer that the human-environment relationship is incredibly dynamic and each shapes the other.

      As for your last two paragraphs…. preach! 🙌🙌🙌🙌 I’m in so much agreement that I have nothing else to add. 😊

      Best,

      Rebecca

      Like

  4. John Rosenberger

    Rebecca,
    I think that you make a very good point, and I think that the color metaphor is helpful in visualizing what you mean with culture.

    Obviously, humans have something unique about us which separates us from nature, or at least differentiates us from the other organisms of our planet. Some of this could, be the simple fact that humans view ourselves as being outside nature, removing us from the consequences of our actions.
    Addressing the beaver argument, I think that my response to that would be this: although beavers modify their environment, their habit of chomping down trees only helps them so much in the survival of the fittest. Their skills as engineer species help them to survive, but that does not result in significant degradation of the environment around them. Also, their ability to build dams helps them survive but it does not rocket them to the top of the food chain.
    Human engineering, on the other hand, can cause significant environmental destruction, and our skills of invention and machinery have made us so fit for survival that we are essentially no longer members of the food chain, and we have escaped the Darwinian world of survival of the fittest.
    Because of our power over the natural world, we can either modify it endlessly in an attempt to suit our needs, or we can recognize that the earth is where we evolved, and we are therefore perfectly suited to the natural environment of our planet.
    I believe that although human technology (and culture, as you say) has removed us from the natural struggle for survival, we ought to recognize that we don’t need to keep changing the world for our own gain; our planet is the home we were made for.
    John Rosenberger

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Rebecca Croy

    Hi John,

    Wow, everyone likes the color metaphor! Thank you so much! This means the world to me. ☺

    I totally agree about the beaver! On one hand, he’s changing his environment to make life better for himself (just like we do), yet, in the large scheme of things he is actually making the ecosystem healthier (not like us at all). His only harm is killing the trees he fells. But, what few people recognize is that this beaver fells trees not just for his dam, but also to eat their bark in the winter! And since killing for food is about as wild as you can get, I think this simple fact should end any beaver vs. human comparisons. We don’t tear apart ecosystems mining for gold so that we can eat gold for breakfast.

    I really like your last paragraph! ☺ I also think it’s a little easier said than done. I’ve been living in a van for a little over 10 months and to be honest, getting through the winter without heat was pretty rough. I’m grateful for many of the advances we’ve made as a society that save me from having to forage wood to build a fire to melt my frozen food/water on the daily. BUT as a whole I do agree with you. Maybe this statement will make me an enemy or two, but I believe that many American lives are a bit too cushy and people should be more willing to sacrifice a bit of their own comfort in order to make the world a better place. ❤

    Thanks again!

    Rebecca

    Like

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